Thirty years after his dramatic feature JFK, innumerable interviews and an untold number of related texts, you might have thought Oliver Stone had had his say on the Kennedy assassination. However, with his latest treatment of the subject in the riveting documentary JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass that’s playing in the Cannes Film Festival’s Premiere section, the intrepid filmmaker has, at long last, essentially won me over to his impassioned, obsessive and tirelessly researched views on one of the most devastating and consequential crimes of modern times.
No matter how skeptical one might choose to be about conspiracy theories, there is simply too much evidence to ignore, too many suspicious details that undermine the lone gunman theory, too many credible reasons to believe that bigger players and masterminds than Lee Harvey Oswald were behind the act that changed the tenor of the country and arguably sent the United States in a more lamentable historical direction.
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Some people will shake their heads at the prospect of yet another hunt by a hound dog like Stone to sniff out more clues, reveal more contradictions, pry more documents out from half-century-old files and in all ways add to and interpret the evidence to inch closer to the full story. We will never know the whole truth about this tragedy of tragedies, but Stone’s indefatigable efforts at unearthing evidence and holding it up to the light for intensive examination properly keeps the case for the prosecution alive, rather than letting it sink forever and unchanged into the archives.
Stone has packed a virtual overdose of historical material, evidence and informed speculation into two hours here (a four-hour version will also be available for real junkies). There’s no need to run a full bibliography of Stone’s sources or an account of his insights and theories, and the filmmaker is very upfront about presenting speculation, discrepancies, missing information, multiple explanations and other matters that will forever cloud a full picture of what happened.
Watching the whole thing play out once again remains infinitely upsetting, but the likeliest possibilities for blame come into somewhat clearer focus even if absolute culpability remains un-assignable. Treating Dealey Plaza like the crime scene it was (and it always seems bigger on film than it does in real life), Stone and his team run through it all again with an emphasis on the logistics involved, the angles and trajectories, the mysteries surrounding the so-called “magic bullet,” the botched brain examination, Lee Harvey Oswald’s movements, the possibility of a second gunman and on and on. The composition and ultimate secrecy of so much of what the Warren Commission did in its presumed full assessment of the crime continues to cast a shadow over its work, even if Stone’s persistent digging did liberate a good deal of evidence and testimony.
But even if informed citizens think they know most of what they’ll ever know about the assassination, Stone has spent a great deal more time than the rest of us have examining and re-examining the question of who was behind the assassination and its endless aftermath.
Out of this were born the most malign conspiracy theories in American history, ones that persist and compete with one another. Because of the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba and JFK’s subsequent firing of the CIA’s chief, John Foster Dulles, the latter emerged as the most likely suspect in the minds of many conspiracy theorists. Let’s just say he looks even more suspicious now, much more so than the Soviet Union, Cubans or anyone else who might have raised an eyebrow of skepticism. This view has been discredited by some, but increasingly embraced by many more, albeit, of course, without actual evidence.
The two-hour film races by, partly because it’s murder mystery but also because it remains, for people who were alive and sentient at the time, the single most galvanizing, tragic and world-changing event in their lives. Stone’s obsession with it could not signify this truth more strongly for members of his generation, and his continuing need return to the story guarantees that the search for answers will persist.